East Sea: Minor moves may become a big deal?

Published: 22/06/2011 05:00


During the international conference on maritime security
in the East Sea in Washington, USA on June 20-21, international scholars
considered the possibility for clashes and an arms race in this region when
related parties seem to have tougher attitude.

During the international conference on maritime security
in the East Sea in Washington, USA on June 20-21, international scholars
considered the possibility for clashes and an arms race in this region when
related parties seem to have tougher attitude.

Chinese scholars said that the US, Vietnam and the Philippines caused tension in
the East Sea. Prof. Su Hao from the China Foreign Affairs University in Beijing
said that there were some reasons so many incidents occurred in the East Sea in
a short period of time. China and Vietnam cooperated well in the past. Vietnam
might have some actions and China responded to these actions (China’s efforts to
blame on Vietnam for recent tensions in the East Sea are not new).

Another scholar from China said that the US backed the Association of Southeast
Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Vietnam, so Vietnam has had tough attitude on the East
Sea disputes.

An official from the Chinese Embassy questioned Vietnamese scholars: “If the US
didn’t back you, would have you had such strong reaction?” Meanwhile, a
Vietnamese scholar, Dr. Tran Truong Thuy, director of the East Sea research
program, said that Vietnam made public China’s acts because it wants China to
rethink and change its behavior.

Chinese scholars’ view was not supported by international scholars. The question
“Anybody here support China’s viewpoint?” was answered by laugh. Scholars agreed
at one point: China has to bear responsibility for escalating tension in the
East Sea.

Dr. Steain Tonnesson, Director of the International Peace Research Institute in
Oslo, Norway, said that ASEAN called for the US’ intervention into the East Sea
disputes is due to the fault of China, especially the acts of this country’s
patrol force in the last two years.

US Senator John McCain said frankly: “The aggressive behavior of China and the
unsubstantiated territorial claims that it seeks to advance” are “exacerbating
tensions” in the waters.

Prof. Carl Thayer from the Australian Defense Force Academy said that China is
retaliating against Vietnam for its role in internationalizing the East Sea
disputes in 2010, when Vietnam held the ASEAN chairmanship. China’s acts at the
Reed Bank aimed to survey whether the US-Philippines Joint Security Agreement is
still valid or not over the Kalayaan islands.

Scholars say that China created incidents in the East Sea in late May and early
June (before and after the Asia Security Summit or the Shangri-La Dialogue in
Singapore) to test the attitude of related countries, especially the US. In some
ways, China feels that it is capable to challenge the order that is under the
US’ control.

What is the real China?

On one hand, Beijing showed its restraint for the US-China strategic relations
in meetings with US officials (with President Obama in January and Secretary of
Defense Robert Gates in early June 2011 at the Shangri-La Dialogue).

On the other hand, China caused escalating tensions by military and non-military
pressures on Vietnam and the Philippines in the East Sea.

“We can see the difference between China’s talk and take. Only several days
after the Chinese Defense Minister’s statement of peace at Shangri-La Dialogue,
Chinese vessels continued cutting cables of Vietnam’s Viking 2 ship,” said Dr.
Dang Dinh Quy, director of Vietnam’s Institute for International Relations.

Scholars questioned “what is the real China?”

Whether Beijing is really truthful or they only wheedle the US and ASEAN by
sweet talks at high-ranking meetings to believe that an escalation will end, or
Beijing will use force to squeeze concessions from ASEAN countries and then,
perhaps concessions from the US?

There is no clear answer for this question.

If China continues its provoking acts, the situation in Southeast Asia will be
unstable because “any minor move can become a big deal”, said Dr. Quy.

Diplomatic pressure should be made, not confrontation

According to Prof. Carl Thayer, both Philippines and Vietnam should strengthen
their power to exercise their sovereignty over their exclusive economic zones.
However, it does not mean armed confrontation against China.

Some scholars are worried that the increasing nationalism in China and Vietnam
will make an escalation in disputes, intentionally or unintentionally.

China is intimidating its neighbors and its neighbors re-intimidate China. If
Vietnam is tough to the level that clashes occur, China will benefit, Prof.
Thayer said.

He said that ASEAN and the international community have to struggle against
China’s aggressive acts through diplomatic channels.

“General diplomatic pressure” on China must be made at the upcoming ASEAN
Regional Forum (ARF) and the East Asia Summit, to force this country to respect
its commitments in the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the East Sea

While rejecting the possibility of war, Prof. Su Hao emphasized that Vietnam and
China are brothers. According to him, there are differences between brothers.
The elder brother is older and stronger and he wants his younger brother to be
obedient, while the younger brother is always under the protection of the elder
brother so he is afraid of his elder brother.

Prof. Carl Thayer noted that Vietnam must be very carefully in using tough
policy against China. Vietnam needs to learn from its own history. More than
anyone, Vietnam knows that wars still happened in the “brother relations”
between the two countries.

Dr. Tran Truong Thuy confirmed that Vietnam does not want to confront China.
Vietnamese and ASEAN scholars reminded the policy to seek peaceful solutions for
the East Sea disputes.

Vietnamese lawyer Nguyen Duy Chien from the Institute for International
Relations noted: “To solve disputes, solutions must be sought for real disputes,
not creating false disputes to make tension. Some countries intentionally create
disputes in the waters of other countries”.

Dr. Stein Tonneson said that in the last two years, China has become more
aggressive against its neighbors. “I have to blame the responsibility on Beijing
and I hope that you will advise your government to reconsider its wrong policy
and make improvement, Dr. Tonneson told Prof. Su Hao.

United ASEAN in East Sea disputes

Ambassador Dino Patti Djalal from Indonesia, the current ASEAN chairmanship,
said that to solve East Sea disputes, ASEAN must continue building trust, one of
the three elements of the DOC and to develop the Code of Conduct in the East Sea

The DOC cannot prevent increasing tensions in the East Sea.

Dr. Peter Dutton from the US Naval University said that ideas to solve disputes
are always abundant, only political will is lacking. He said that related sides
must have political concessions, otherwise the strong will do what they can do
and the smaller have to do what they have to do.

Dino Patti Djalal said that there are only one or two hindrances for the COC and
Indonesia would try its best for the signing of the COC.

Optimistic people said that the COC may be signed on the 10th anniversary of the
DOC, but Prof. Carl Thayer said that it is difficult to happen.

ASEAN state members need to build an Agreement on the Conduct in the East Sea
and open it for the participation of non-member countries, he suggested.

Dr. Dang Dinh Quy said that related parties need to promote sea-related
cooperation, including joint patrol and military exercise with the participation
of China, ASEAN and related countries. Parties also need to reduce purchasing
weapons and perform measures to build trust.

Most scholars said that the “joint exploration” mechanism doesn’t work because
parties cannot reach agreement in defining the dispute and undisputed areas.

Filipino and Vietnamese scholars have a similar approach to define the dispute
and undisputed areas where joint exploration can be conducted.

Henry S.Bensurto, Secretary General of the Committee on Marine and Oceanic
Issues under the Filipino Foreign Ministry, said that this country is finalizing
its proposal to zone waters to form the peaceful and friendly waters.
Accordingly, waters will be divided into dispute, overlap and undisputed areas.

The US’s role in East Sea

Bonner Glaser from the US-based Center for Strategic and International Studies,
said that the US’ plan in 2010 shows the cooperation between the US and China.
But many incidents have occurred and perhaps the US has to reconsider its plan.

According to Glaser, many countries expected the US to warn China of its
aggressive acts though some emphasizing that the US-China must further promote

Prof. Su Hao said that the US’ positive involvement to solve the East Sea
disputes is welcomed by China, but sometimes “US’ intervention is not positive
in Southeast Asia and that is why China doesn’t welcome this intervention”.

However, Dr. Marvin Ott from the John Hopkins University worried–when an
aggressive China is facing the only country that’s against its ambition, but
when the US fails to advise China, there is a big problem and the future is

He said that China has seen the East Sea as its own pond since 1949, and now the
US’ responsibility is seeking ways to avoid war and maintain stability.

Dr. Tran Truong Thuy said that China did not join the DOC unintentionally. At
that time, the US stated that Southeast Asia was the second battlefield in its
war against terrorism, so China was friendlier to Southeast Asia.

At the ASEAN Regional Forum last July, after 13 countries talked about the East
Sea disputes and supported the implementation of the DOC and the signing of the
COC, the US stated its national interests in the East Sea, China used a more
gentle policy later.

The US needs to clarify its position in China’s claims over the East Sea, said
Henry S. Bensurto.

The US benefits most from the international order based on rules, which are
maintained by the US’ power and leadership. If the US gives up that role, it is
dangerous for the world and for the US itself, said Senator John McCain.

Hoang Phuong

Provide by Vietnam Travel

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